“THE CHARITY OF CHRIST”
(Ep. Ephesians iii. 13-21)
Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them unto the end. Jesus, knowing that the hour of His death was at hand, wished to leave men the greatest proof of His love by leaving us Himself in the Holy Eucharist. He loved them unto the end. That is “with an extreme affection,” says St. John Chrysostom.
Jesus, knowing that his hour was come … having loved his own … he loved them unto the end (Jo. xiii. 1). Let us consider the love of Jesus Christ in leaving us Himself in the Most Holy Eucharist: He loved them unto the end. That is, according to St. John Chrysostom, “with an extreme affection.”
St. Bernardine of Sienna says that the tokens of love which are given at death make a more lasting impression on the mind, and are more highly esteemed. But, whilst others leave a ring, or a piece of money, as a mark of their affection, Jesus has left us His entire Self in this Sacrament of love.
And when did Jesus Christ institute this Sacrament? He instituted it, as the Apostle has remarked, on the night before His Passion. The Lord Jesus, the same night in which he was betrayed, took bread, and giving thanks, broke and said: Take ye and eat: this is my body (1 Cor. xi. 23-24). Thus, at the very time that men were preparing to put Him to death, our loving Redeemer resolved to bestow upon us this gift. Jesus Christ, then, was not content with giving His life for us on a Cross: He wished also, before His death, to pour out, as the Council of Trent says, all the riches of His love, by leaving Himself as our food in the Holy Communion. “He, as it were, poured out the riches of His love towards man.” If Faith had not taught it, who could ever imagine that a God would become Man, and the food of His own creatures? When Jesus Christ revealed to His followers this Sacrament which He intended to leave us, St. John says that they could not bring themselves to believe it, and many departed from Him, saying: How can this man give us his flesh to eat? … This saying is hard, and who can hear it? (Jo. vi. 53-61). But what men could not imagine, the great love of Jesus Christ has invented and effected. Take ye and eat: this is my body (1 Cor. xi. 24). These words He addressed to His Apostles on the night before He suffered, and He now, after His death, addresses them to us.
How highly honoured, says St. Francis de Sales, would that man feel to whom a prince sent from his table a portion of what he had on his own plate! But Jesus gives us not a portion of His own food but His entire Body and Blood in the Sacrament of the Altar. “He gave you all,” says St. John Chrysostom, reproving our ingratitude: “He left nothing for Himself.” And St. Thomas teaches that in the Eucharist God has given us all that He is and all that He has. Justly, then, has the same saint called the Eucharist “a Sacrament of love, a pledge of love.” It is a Sacrament of love, because it was pure love that induced Jesus Christ to give us this gift and pledge of love; for He wished that, should a doubt of His having loved us ever enter into our minds, we should have in this Sacrament a pledge of His love. St. Bernard calls this Sacrament “Love of loves.” By His Incarnation the Lord has given Himself to all men in general; but, in this Sacrament He has given Himself to each of us in particular, to make us understand the special love He entertains for each of us.
Oh, how ardently does Jesus Christ desire to come to our souls in the Holy Communion! This vehement desire He expressed at the time of the institution of this Sacrament, when He said to the Apostles: With desire I have desired to eat this Pasch with you (Luke xxii. 15). St. Laurence Justinian says that these words proceeded from the enamoured Heart of Jesus Christ, Who by such tender expressions, wished to show us the ardent love with which He loved us. “This is the voice of the most burning charity.” And, to induce us to receive Him frequently in the Holy Communion, He promises eternal life — that is, the kingdom of Heaven — to those who eat His Flesh. He that eateth this bread shall live forever (Jo. vi. 59). On the other hand, He threatens to deprive us of His grace and Paradise if we neglect Communion. Except you eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, you shall not have life in you (Jo. vi. 54). These promises and these threats all sprung from a burning desire to come to us in this Sacrament.